The Filming of Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom

Peeping Tom Movie Poster

Meeting Michael Powell

The day that Michael Powell walked into the Photographic Exhibition, at our studios in London’s Soho and came face to face with an enormous picture of me, was the day that was to colour the rest of my life. Michael Powell turned to his Art Director and said “That is the girl I want for Peeping Tom. Downstairs in our office, he explained what he wanted. The part was for the model Milly. There were scenes in a Studio in which Carl Boehm as the character Mark Lewis has to photograph a model and Powell was looking for a girl, preferably a model, who could act.

George Harrison Marks and I ran a studio and a publishing company, Kamera Publications. Apart from posing myself, I trained models to work for our Studio: we produced four monthly magazines for which I was responsible. We also were branching out with 8mm Glamour films. I had not yet given any thought to acting in the Movies

It was in my magazine KAMERA that Powell had originally seen my pictures and saw that we had a big Exhibition of Nudes at our Studios in Gerrard Street in Soho. Hence his appearance at our Studios.

He wanted to see me in a studio set-up and suitably lit, as he was convinced that I would be right for the part. That evening Powell and the Art Director came to our studio on the top floor. The set that was up was a Parisian street scene, which consisted of a brick wall, with an arch over an alley, and a pavement and cobbled street.

I was particularly pleased with the set as I had not only designed it but also painted the entire set, literally brick by brick. My studio assistant had taken a plaster cast from an actual London Street, including the pavement and the cobbles. When finished complete with genuine French posters, it looked like the real thing. I had studied Art and Painting for 7 years, the last 4 of which I spent at St Martin’s School of Art in London; all of which stood me in good stead when it came to set design and painting, although my main subject was drawing and painting the nude figure.

I stood under the lights; George lit me, and Powell looking through the back of the camera was satisfied with what he saw. The costumes that Milly had to wear in both scenes, as on-screen in 1959 she could not appear nude, had to be both sexy and concealing. On the wall in the Studio was a large colour photograph of a girl with waist-length flaming red hair wearing a waspie corset in deep pink and gold, that just clinched the waist leaving the breasts bare. Over her shoulders was a black lace negligee, which she held open to reveal her body. Both the costume and the girl intrigued Powell. I explained that the girl was, in fact, me in a red wig, and was a character that I had created. It’s surprising what one can do with a subtle change of make-up and changing the camera angle. The character was called Rita Landre.

Powell was very taken with the costumes and asked if I could put them on for him to see. Dressed in the Waspie and the black lace I stood on the set. He thought the pink and gold corset was ideal but thought the black lace too heavy.

In my make-up room I had two long racks of every kind of costume, many I had designed and made myself: from these Powell sorted out a short negligee in see-through magenta nylon trimmed with black lace. I took off the black negligee and put on the magenta “short”, he liked it and thought it perfect for the first scene. Next, he wanted a full-length negligee and he picked out from the collection a pale green semi-transparent flower spattered nylon. This would do for the costume in the second scene.

Powell was fascinated by the set, he walked around admiring the old street lamp and French posters. I had even planted tiny Ferns and moss to give it a touch of authenticity. He asked if he could copy the set for Peeping Tom, and the Art Director arranged for George to supply him with photographs to work from. In the corner of our Studio was a small set up, consisting of an Attic interior with a black iron bedstead with bed linen and pillows and various props hanging on the wall. This Powell felt he could use for the last scene. We were also to advise him on the lamps and cameras that Mark would use.

Auditioning for Peeping Tom

At St. Mary Abbott Studios in Kensington, I read the part for Powell and was accepted to play Milly. A contract was drawn up and duly signed. Shooting would commence some time late October, the film would be based at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire. First, there was the reading of the parts with all the actors involved. This took place again at St. Mary Abbotts and was the first time that I had done a reading with professional actors. In Auditions for London shows, I had either to show that I could dance or that my figure was good enough to be a semi-nude showgirl. The Follies Bergere. Now I was confronted by seasoned actors like Anna Massey, Carl Boehm, Maxine Audley, Nigel Davenport et al…

We all sat in a big room and read through the first part of the film script. I had a fair chunk of dialogue: the first line being “Look who’s here, Cecil Beaton”. My costumes had been borrowed by the wardrobe department, so they could copy them. The black stockings and the black G-String I would supply myself. The ones I used were actually a gift from a fan in America. I spent each evening learning my part as there was a lot of dialogue, and I discovered that in my final scene with Mark I am murdered, as to how was unclear.

On the set at Pinewood

In early November, I had the call from Pinewood Studios giving me the day and the time that I was needed. I had to be made-up and ready to start at 8 am. A car and driver had been arranged by the film company to collect me each morning from where I lived at Hampstead Heath, and deliver me to Pinewood Studios, as well as to take me home at the end of the day.

I was ready when the driver rang the bell of my apartment at six o’clock in the morning. Driving through the dark and the rain, I felt apprehensive. I had never been to Pinewood and knew no one there. At this time; I desperately needed a friend for reassurance. We were now driving through the open countryside, passing fields and woods, then up along leafy lane and the driver swung the car in through the gatehouse of the largest Studio complex in England. The car checked through, he drove round to the Make-Up and Hairdressing departments. George and Bill Partleton were waiting for me in Make-Up; I stripped down to my bra and pants as I also needed body make up. I sat in the chair and George made up my face, which was a novelty for me, I had always had to do my own makeup and hair. Bill then took over and began to make up my body, mainly the arms, legs and shoulders. In the script, Milly asks Mark, “Can you fix it so that the bruises don’t show?.

So Bill made a bruise on my left thigh; that bruise was to cause more fuss throughout the shooting of that scene than the entire film put together. Complete with makeup and bruise, the next department was for my hair. My hairdresser, who kept Diana Dors and me beautifully blonde, had previously bleached and washed my hair, set the two ponytails I always wore for modelling. The first ponytail was pinned firmly to the crown of my head and the second bound around and pinned in, so it gave the look of having waist-length hair. This was normal practice for me as my hair was frequently bleached, it was better to keep it short, and this enabled me to wear the red wig for the character Rita.

Wardrobe was next: looking at the first costume that I was to wear, I was not impressed. The waspie was in a dull red with gold flowers, and the short top in a peculiar shade of scarlet; it had been made of a more opaque nylon to hide the breasts. I put on my stockings and the G-String. The G-String proved too brief, so I ended up wearing some small panties with two rows of frills added for “decencies” sake.

Peeping Tom lobby card

The third assistant came and took me to the stage that they were filming on. The red light was on, so we waited until it flicked off, and in we went. My first impression was of darkness with a core of brilliant light in the middle of a vast space. I looked around me with awe. The second assistant motioned me over to where the light was. It was strange seeing my set, copied under the big lamps. Michael Powell was standing in the middle of all this apparent confusion talking to Carl Boehm. It suddenly came to me that I had to step out of the safe darkness where I was standing and join the group.

I felt scared and would have given a lot to quietly leave and go home. A man was seated in the shadows, he got up and came over to me, “Pamela, do you remember me?”. Of course, I knew him, “Peter Noble”. “Sure thing, I’ve come especially to interview you”. Peter Noble and I go back a long way. In 1953 in Bernard Delfont’s show “The was interviewing the star of the show, Norman Wisdom. At the same time, I also met George Harrison Marks, who had photographed Norman Wisdom, and was offering a free sitting to any of us girls. This was ultimately how I came to go into equal partnership with George. In the following years, I used to do interviews with most of the big American stars that appeared at the London Palladium, with George taking the pictures, this was for the same magazine that Peter worked for so our paths frequently crossed.

Film director Michael Powell on the set of Peeping Tom set with Pamela Green.

Here was the friend that I needed so much to give me confidence and support. He saw my look of panic and reassured me, “just walk onto the set, once you are under the lights you won’t feel so scared, beyond the lights you will see nothing, go on, GO! I walked on, Powell came towards me, I was clutching my script, and all I hoped, for now, was that I could remember my lines. I stood on the place I was directed to, and Otto Heller began to light me. It seemed to take forever. The focus puller measured my distance to the camera, my place on the floor was marked with a cross. Finally, all was ready and the bell went for the first rehearsal. The first shot was of me standing by the door, smoking a cigarette. Problem number one: I have never smoked in my life, one of the crew lit a cigarette for me and I went through the actions of smoking; each take another cigarette. I said my lines, then opened the door.

Cut to the other side of the door and Carl Boehm’s entry, the same dialogue then cut to another angle: with all the various angles we were still at it when they broke for lunch. Afternoon and we were off again. At the reading, I had met Susan Travers as the other model in the scene. Her part consisted of the one-line “you don’t have to photograph my face”. All became clear on the set that day; wearing a Spanish shawl and a big black hat. Susan had to have a harelip, and Bill had the job of fixing it; it kept coming undone. Between Susan’s harelip and my bruise, we kept him on the run. Just that one snarl piece of dialogue and action completed the first day of filming.

Day two of filming Peeping Tom

Next day, I was back in position. We picked it up from the door and the action moved to the Pak’ just to highlight a cheekbone, and irritating Powell no end. “Hurry up Otto” was the constant cry.

Then the time that Carl fluffed a line on a take and stopped. My years of theatre training, where you cover a fluff and go on, if you are on stage, I automatically cut in with my line, allowing him to pick up and go on. “CUT”. Powell came over with a voice like ice and said “You are an actor and should at least know your lines. She(indicating me) has never stood on a film set before, but she covered you like a professional” Thanks a lot, I thought, I could see from Carl’s face that it was going to be a “Hate Green Week”. Now I knew, do not try to help your fellow actors. Look after Number One.

Carl Boehm and Pamela Green on the set of Peeping Tom.

That night I went home exhausted, but tired or not I still went through my lines. I had been chucked in at the deep end, but I was learning fast. Learn all the dialogue, not just your own. I had read the complete script several times and was still none the wiser. A Horror film that apparently showed no violence. I had been secretly hoping that my end would be bloody, but I was told that after my last line, the camera would cut away to a shot of a policeman looking down at me with the brilliant dialogue “She’s dead”. And still, no clue how we all died until the final shot. Not even one drop of blood would come my way!. My dialogue with Carl now included the line referring to my bruise.

Standing up to Michael Powell

The following day at rushes they thought that the bruise was too heavy, so it was reshot with it much lighter. The following day they looked at the result and thought it too pale, and so it went on and on and on. Whenever I had a moment off the set, Peter would be interviewing me for the BBC. Parade and Blighty wanted to shoot colour of me for a double-page spread on the set. We finished up with the pictures shot in the mobile makeup room, with a snatched shot of me on the Parisian Street. There seemed to be very little from the Publicity Department in publicising Peeping Tom, so George took pictures of me in my costumes both in colour and black and white on my own original sets at weekend, our Kamera magazines and Calendars we lent as set dressing in the scene showing the interior and exterior of the newsagents shop. When the film was ultimately shown, it increased the sale of our pictures.

Finally, the scene was finished. The set was struck and the iron bedstead with the bed coverings and pillows was put in place for my final scene. Powell was a strange man to work with, cold, somewhat remote; a sarcastic tongue. He seemed to enjoy humiliating the actors, and certain ones would be his whipping boys and one day it was me. I had put on the flowered negligee and was standing being lit by Otto when the storm broke. My costume was wrong. It was not transparent enough and I looked like a bale of material, (I knew that), why ?… Because it had been lined with a pink lining for decency’s sake said Wardrobe. “Then take it out now”. I took off the offending garment and the Wardrobe Lady, making sure that I was covered with not a hint of flesh showing that might drive the crew wild, cut out the lining with a pair of scissors. I put it back on and was re-lit. The cameraman thought it was too transparent with the lights shining through it; they shifted the lamps.

I was measured and my marks put down on the floor, my dialogue and movements checked. I had to be careful to stay in one position at the head of the bed, for the set was very narrow, and restricted. Camera, Action, and we were away with the scene where I am berating Mark for calling me in to pose for him: I am angry. “CUT!” yells Powell. “Why are you not moving about, you are supposed to be angry with him, just don’t stand there, throw yourself around the set”.

Fear overcome, my temper flared; turning to the camera I asked them that if I did as Powell said I would be off the set, and was I not supposed to stick to the markings that had been put down especially. Back came the answer, yes I had to stick to the marks. Temper really gone, I turned to Powell and yelled at him “Why don’t you make up your Bloody mind”. The English Gentleman returned, he became charm itself and we did the scene again. Lesson number two, stand up to him.

Michael Powell’s Revenge

On arrival at the Studio next morning I found the waspie and the short top. Otto appeared, patted my hand, and said “not to worry”, and soon Powell himself appeared. The shot, he told me, was something that had come to him last night. He wanted to film my image in the back of Mark’s camera, which was a Linhof 5X4″ view camera; the image would be upside down and would fill the screen. For this shot, he needed only me. I stood on the set and Powell looking through the back of the camera, told Otto to light me. Four Arcs were arranged to light me, still looking through the back of the camera, Powell asked for more light, the image was not bright enough. Otto took a reading on his meter, the movie camera was in position; Powell was not satisfied, still more light. Then he asked for the Fresnel glass to be taken off one of the Brutes. Otto protested, “No Michael, it is too dangerous”. Powell took no notice and had the glass taken off another Arc, and yet another. Bill, checking my make up warned me “Don’t look at the lights, Pam, then turning to Powell “For Christ’s sake, you’ll blind her”. I felt my skin beginning to burn, red patches appeared on my arms and shoulders: I tried not to look at the blaze of light coming from the four naked Brutes burning in my face. Powell watched my discomfort with a slight smile on his face. Eventually, the shot was over and the Arcs quickly killed. Bill came hurrying over to me, first he took off the false eyelashes, then in the makeup room, cleaned my face of all makeup. “That shot should never have been permitted”. I didn’t know that a bare Arc could blind; I had felt it was more of a trial of strength between Powell and me, especially after the set the previous day. Next morning when the alarm clock went I tried to open my eyes and found that I couldn’t. They were badly swollen.

I was helped down to the waiting car, and a shocked driver when he saw my face. Bill, awaiting me in make-up looked grim. Seizing my arm he guided me onto the set, where he dragged me up to Powell. “Look at her face, will you.” Powell turned, glanced at me and said, “Make sure that she is ready, on the set and made up for 9 am”.

Filming the nude scene in Peeping Tom

We were now on the final part of the scene where Milly lies down on the bed and is killed. The last two lines of dialogue being “Are you safe to be alone with?”, a long pause as she lies against the pillows, “It might be more fun if you weren’t”. Late afternoon and Carl and I were standing by the bed when Powell called out brightly, “The next shot is where you strip”. “This is where I don’t strip! There is nothing indicated in the script that I am completely in the nude, nor has it ever been discussed” I replied. “But you strip for men,” said Powell. “l pose nude for my partner who is a photographer, and that is my job, I am not a stripper on a stage”. Looking around the stage I noticed that it had become very full of people who didn’t belong there. The cast from one of the Carry On films were watching from one corner, The League of Gentlemen currently being filmed with Jack Hawkins had come to have a look also. What to do now?

The crew, since the beginning having discovered that I was very new to all this, had adopted me. I was their “child”, any problems I could ask them, any technical terms, they put me wise.

In the tea break, the gaffer sparks quietly came over to me. I explained if it was essential to the story and if I had to strip, I did not mind the crew being present. It was the strangers hanging around to have a look at a nude girl that I would not tolerate. I wasn’t a Peep Show. The Gaffer told me what to do. “You just say clear the set, and put the drapes up”. This I did, to the considerable surprise of Michael Powell, who looked as if he were doing sums in his head. I could read on his face, “Who has been showing her the ropes in all this”. To Powell, I said, “Look, I don’t have to stand around on your film set, the money that you are paying me for three weeks work on your picture, I earn in one day at my own Studio, so while you make your mind up, I’m going”. I picked up my coat, which happened to be a very beautiful dark brown mink, put it on and walked off the set. Powell immediately capitulated, charm nude shot must be made up all over, and I was rushed into the nearest dressing room. With sponges and Pancake makeup he began to make up my now totally nude body. The Third Assistant came in, “Powell says will you hurry up”. Bill gave a somewhat startled assistant a sponge, “Shut up and cover her back”. The two men worked on applying the makeup at top speed, up my legs, inside my legs, “Bend over Pam, I want to do your bum”. In no time I was covered and on viewing me both men suddenly realised that they had been slapping makeup on a totally nude girl. “I didn’t even stop to think” was Bill’s comment.

On the set I took up my position by the bed, looking across to the camera I saw two young boys about 7 and 8 years old sitting on the floor in front of the camera. Powell caught my look and said that they were his sons and he wanted them to watch the scene. I could not be bothered to argue; I took my position for the first take. It had been decided to shoot two versions of the scene. Take number one, with the camera at the head of the bed; I did my line, turned, laid down on the bed, and with the negligee parted to show the breasts partially covered gave my final line. The second version, and take two. The camera looking down on my body, I did my line ” Are you safe to be alone with”, then laid down, opened the negligee, so one could see my nude body and said my line again, “It might be more fun if you weren’t”. Cut to close up of me, end of scene.

It was amazingly easy, no one in my eye line, just the lens of the camera looking down on me. Another Take as Otto wanted to change the lighting a little. All over, I remained there for the stills camera to do a picture. Suddenly I was aware that a stranger was at the foot of the bed with a camera pointing straight up my naked body. I sat up quickly, “From that angle, no pictures, get him off the set” With great speed the nearest Electricians pounced on him, whipped away his camera and slung him off the set. Some photojournalist had got wind of the fact that there was a nude on F Stage. I was the first nude in a feature film in England hole process to me. He was gentle, kind, and totally charming. I asked him why he was such a pig on the set, but so helpful and nice now. He just smiled and said nothing.

On another occasion, he had an extra set built for an exterior of Hyde Park and a small row of shops. I stood wondering how they managed to give the effect of such a large Park. Powell saw me looking at it and came over. I was puzzled at the lamp posts disappearing into the distance, a real full-sized Oak Tree with bushes and grass, and all around the London skyline of rooftops and chimneys. “Walk down the path with me”. We did; the first lamppost was of a normal size, the second much shorter until they finished up at practically knee height. Powell explained that it was a perspective set, he took me over to the camera and told me to look through, again charm itself. I asked what this huge set was for, and was told that there was to be a couple making love on the grass at night, they look up when Mark tries to film them. The man jumps up and shouts “Peeping Tom”. This was for the opening and title sequence.

Back to the day job

I returned to my work at my own Studios which had been piling up, George took more photographs of me in the bedroom set that Powell had copied for the final scene. I was kept busy with pictures and interviews for the forthcoming Premiere of Peeping Tom. Weegee was over at Shepperton Studios, and being very interested in Peeping Tom, contacted me. He visited our Studio and virtually became a permanent guest. We had great fun taking pictures of each other, including his signature distorted prints.

For most of the publicity purposes, my pictures were used as there seemed to be hardly anything available from the publicity department.

The World Premiere of Peeping Tom

The World Premiere of Peeping Tom was held on April 7, 1960, at the Plaza Cinema, Piccadilly. On the night of the premiere, I stood outside the Cinema and saw a 40-foot cut-out of me in the red Waspie covering the Cinema front, with my name “and introducing Pamela Green” in lights below it. Inside the Press were waiting, and the photographs began. I joined Otto Heller and his wife and we made our way to our seats in the packed auditorium. Otto’s superb lighting of my nude body surrounded by the soft folds of the negligee, deliberately open to display the curve of my breasts and torso. “It might be more fun if you weren’t, “after which poor Milly gets a knife through her throat. The black and white film sequences were disturbing – Mark as a child being quietly terrorised by his father as an experiment in fear, with Powell playing the father. One of his young sons played Mark as a young boy. I then remembered Powell’s insistence that his two sons should watch me on that last scene in which I was nude. A strange man, Powell.

Afterwards, at the party at the Savoy Hotel, Weegee, who had covered the Premiere, was busy again with his camera.

Reception and reappraisal

We will never know what happened to turn all the critics against Powell, for they all panned it, using such terms as violent and pornographic, with crude and nasty being among the milder comments. On release, Local Watch Committees refused to have it screened in their towns. My nude shot was cut out and the alternative version was used, which was the long shot from the head of the bed. Powell’s successful career came to an abrupt halt. Exiled by the British film industry he went to Australia, where he was to continue his directorial career with They’re a Weird Mob and The Age of Consent.

Twenty years later, Martin Scorcese saw Peeping Tom and arranged for it to be shown at the 1979 New York Film Festival. Through Scorcese’s efforts, the film has been restored to its rightful place in the annals of movie history.

Looking at Peeping Tom thirty-five years on, the film was perhaps one of the most notorious British films ever made. It was a startling treatment of voyeurism and the mechanics of the cinema, wrapped in the clothes of a lurid thriller. I know that Powell once called it “a very tender film, a very nice one”. It has, however, the ability to haunt the mind long after “so-called” nice films are forgotten.

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